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Bike Review - Posted 22nd January 2014
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Royal Enfield Electra-XS Modification - Part 2

Stephen Herbert bought one of the last carburettor-equipped Enfield 500 singles. He's previously upgraded it, and now puts those modifications to the test on a trip to the Isle of Man...

In the last instalment, I banged on about the various mods and improvements I've made to the bike since buying it new in 2007. This time I thought I'd talk about how it is to ride. Rather than a random set of observations, this is based on a true story of an Isle of Man first-timer, aka yours truly.

Early last year (that's 2013, in case you're reading this on the HUD from your Smart Watch in 2025…), I was chatting with Phil, one of my chums from our local VMCC section, 'Cheshire Cats'. He was planning his annual pilgrimage to the IoM for the Southern 100. I'd never been to the IoM, got interested and a week later I'd booked the ferry and B&B for July 2013.

In the last installment

Now Phil and his IoM chums do the annual trip on modern bikes . My stable at the time consisted of a BMW R45, an Indian Enfield Bullet in bits, and Harrison, my 2007 RE Electra XS. Regular readers will know that this is the posh version with twin clocks to which I had applied some sensible mods. There really was no way I was going to buy a modern bike for the trip, so I decided that Harrison would need to be put through his paces.

Months passed, and we approached the Big Adventure. I prepared Harrison for the trip by checking oil, tyres etc, deciding what tools to take etc, and the week before the trip, I managed to damage my right leg in another kick-starting injury. Regular readers will know about my propensity to do this, mainly on Harrison during earlier fettling. This one was with another bike and was more serious. I could hardly walk the day I set off to meet Phil, but reasoned that as the bike was left-foot gear change, I'd probably be ok…

Ouch
Enfields on Now...

So on 8 September I set off from home on Harrison to meet Phil en route for Liverpool and the ferry. As usual, Harrison was running really well, despite the extra load and my apprehension about The Big Adventure. We boarded the ferry in Liverpool without fuss, and 2½ hours later disembarked in Douglas. A short run from there to Port Erin saw us at our B&B. Mercifully, my right leg didn't cause any problems until it came to walking to the pub later, which was slow. I'd managed to do most of the braking with the front disc - which has always been efficient and reliable.

After watching the practice runs for the Southern 100 (which killed one poor young rider), we set off the next day to ride the mountain circuit. This was always going to be a test of Harrison's ability to keep up. I was reasonably optimistic, having tweaked various engine appendages to increase power (mildly) and flexibility. On a recent run on the mainland a guy on a modern bike had congratulated me on my (and Harrison's) ability to maintain a reasonable pace.

Modern bikes

We set off from the pit lane in Douglas after me reminding Phil, Dave, Tony, Glynn and Mick-the-Vic that I had considerably less bhp and torque than them. The run was exciting (well partly, after we'd cleared traffic and roadworks in the Douglas suburbs) and soon we had separated into two groups. I was in the lead group with Phil and the others were lagging behind! Harrison ran really well throughout, including overtaking slower traffic and rocketing up the mountain after passing though Ramsey. I must confess I 'lost the plot' on one overtaking occasion. As a youth, I'd been brought up on old Brit bikes with one-up-three-down right foot gearboxes. Harrison has a one-down-four-up left foot change and I was momentarily 16 years old when I changed up during a fast-ish overtaking feat (OK, passing a bus…!) and - you guessed it - changed down instead. The rev-counter did a wheel-slapper of sorts, and the engine screamed in protest, but the moment lasted about three nanoseconds and no damage was done.

Further up the mountain section, we had an incident with a guy on an old Matchless who seemed to forget which side of the road to ride on, but we got past him with millimetres to spare. I saw 75 (OMG…) on my speedo going down the other side of the mountain, just before Creg-Ny-Baa (ok, you now know we were taking our time), and finally, Phil and I finished back at the pits in Douglas 70 minutes after leaving them. This has to be a course (slow) record as the TT boys do the circuit in 17 minutes, an AVERAGE speed of over 130mph. I was just glad to have shared the same bit of road and some of the experiences with the TT greats. Harrison didn't miss a beat and seemed to have enjoyed the run. After the others caught up and had endured the ribbing of failing to keep up with a 500cc, modernised 1950s bike, we rode down to the prom at Laxey for ice creams.

Calf of Man

I spent the next couple of days partly with Phil & co and partly alone (my foot was still a hindrance and I didn't want to slow the others down). I did another couple of runs; to Peel and to Laxey again before my return to the mainland on the Thursday morning. Once again, Harrison did everything expected of him and behaved impeccably.

The Southern 100 was a great introduction to the IoM for this virgin - fast enough to be exciting (arguably too much so, given the number of fatalities that week…) but small enough to be friendly and manageable to a temporary kickstart-cripple like me!

Once back home I collected my thoughts over a couple of beers, still nursing my foot, and considered Harrison's pros & cons in the light of the recent Big Adventure, which I summarise below in case you're thinking of venturing into Enfield-land with one of these bikes.

Pros:
Compared with the older, iron-barrelled Bullets (and I had one of these at the time for a direct comparison), the Electra-X is a much more refined, modern-feeling and reliable machine. Firstly there's helpful equipment including electric foot (a God-send on my IoM trip as it turned out), disc front brake and electronic ignition. On the subject of electric start, I know lots of people have had sprag clutch problems with these bikes - either I've been lucky or my religious sprag-protecting starting procedure has helped. This consists of priming the engine with a couple of kicks with petrol on and decompressor pulled, followed by carefully positioning the motor just past TDC on compression before pushing the button.

In addition, Electra-Xs have a carburettor; an Amal on my bike, rather than injection, which aids fettling, plus the 1950s look is maintained.

Cons:
The sprag clutch is undoubtedly a weakness if abused, and the crossover mechanism for the rear brake pedal is a lash-up as standard, requiring some modification to achieve 21st century braking.

Lastly, don't expect to enjoy endless, relaxing motorway cruising at the legal limit. These bikes aren't designed to do this and are best used burbling along on the curvy stuff. My trip to the Island didn't present a problem in this regard, since I live within 40 minutes of Liverpool and the ferry. It would have been less pleasant if I had needed to blast up the M6 first!

Modern bikes

Overall, my six years with Harrison has been really enjoyable. I've never kept a bike this long and had so much enjoyment (both riding and fettling). I can't see me parting company with Harrison any time soon…


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